Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Negotiated power: The state and elites in 12th-14th century China
by Lee, Sukhee, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2009, 256; 3385551
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation explores how a new relationship between the state and society was formed in twelfth–fourteenth century China. Taking Mingzhou, modern Ningbo city, Zhejiang Province, as my case study, I challenge the assumption on which many interpretations of this period are based, namely a zero-sum competition between state power and that of local elites. Rather than asking a counter-productive question of “whether the late imperial Chinese state was strong or weak” vis-à-vis local elites, I orient my research toward an analysis of continual negotiation between them and what their voices tell us about the period. I have found that the presence of the state, not its absence, was essential to the rise of local elite society.

Chapter One examines who the main actors were in the remarkable growth of Mingzhou during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), and what made them different from elites in other localities, chiefly the elites of Fuzhou, Jiangxi, upon whom our understanding of Southern Song social elites has been largely based. Drawing mainly on 140 epitaphs written for Mingzhou natives, I argue that a flourishing elite community in Southern Song Mingzhou was an outcome of the connectedness of its elite to the state, not of their separation from it.

In Chapter Two, I argue that the local government in Southern Song showed a notable resiliency and administrative competence. Far from helpless, the local state managed to find a way to continue to be a reliable gatekeeper of society in terms of local defense and infrastructure building. Based on a close reading of the way in which policies of the Mingzhou government were worked out, I also show that the local government was actively negotiating with local people and did not lose its substantial leverage in this process well into the 1250s. Rather than seeing these facts as simple proof of the relative weakening of state power, I interpret them as a sign that the local state began to view itself as a participant in and caretaker of local society, not simply as its ruler. Chapter Three starts with a question: in what fields can we find so-called “elite activism”? From this perspective, building and renovating local schools, reviving an ancient community ritual, creating a self-help institution, and organizing a voluntary association to cope with state imposed duty are all examined. Local community building was not dominated, let alone monopolized, by local elites. The Mingzhou government was enthusiastic about sustaining local community by becoming a financial supporter, administrative manager, and timely reformer of various local projects. The rise of local activism during the Southern Song period, I argue, was undergirded by an activism of local government.

In Chapter Four, I turn to what happened to Mingzhou society and its elites during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). In the absence of the examination system, arguably the most significant institutional link connecting local elites with the state, how did local elites make sense of themselves and the state? How did the seeds of localism planted during Southern Song grow under the alien regime? In answering these questions, I show the crucial importance of the Yuan period in shaping local elite society and handing it over to the late imperial period.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bol, Peter K.
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History
Keywords: China, Elites, Local government, Mingzhou, Southern Song, State-society relations, Yuan
Publication Number: 3385551
ISBN: 978-1-109-49463-1
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